Cupertino puts residents on alert

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office is launching a program this month through which residents of Cupertino, Calif., can receive e-mail alerts about crimes in their neighborhood.

A test run of the E-mail Community Alert Program (eCAP) during the last three months had an immediate impact, said Sgt. Skip Shervington, community resource officer for the Sheriff's Office.

A test group of 100 people, recruited through Cupertino Neighborhood Watch programs, "just by word of mouth grew to 400 rather quickly," Shervington said.

The program has already sparked more interest in Neighborhood Watch programs, as people become more aware — and concerned — about the crimes occurring around them. "I get people saying, 'Oh my God, that's my street,' " he said.

Each morning, when Shervington gets to work, he checks the files on the last 24 hours and boils reports down into three lines: what crime occurred, how it occurred and in which block. In some cases, he will ask for help in identifying suspicious persons or vehicles associated with a case.

It's quick work, but it's enough information to tell people how to minimize their chances of being next, he said.

For example, someone with a habit of leaving a laptop computer sitting on the front seat of the car might choose to take it in if he learns about a string of car burglaries one street over. Or people might think twice about leaving a house key under the doormat if they find out a burglar found and used a hidden key.

But Shervington believes e-mail alerts can have a longer-lasting benefit, similar to the impact of Neighborhood Watch programs.

"One of the things I realized when I was doing detective work and talked to people about a burglary that occurred on their street, [was that] they usually had no idea one had occurred," said Shervington, a 15-year veteran of the department.

People who become more aware of what's happening in their community are more likely to take action when they see suspicious activity, even if they don't know their neighbors well, he said. "You have now bought into that sense of community, so you tend to look out for them."

Cupertino residents can sign up for eCAP at a Neighborhood Watch meeting or through Cupertino's Web site (www.cupertino.org).

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